Thursday, April 06, 2006

Libya, Day One and Two

I'm skipping over Tunisia for now, since it's SO normal (read: European) comparitively.

Maintenance and upkeep are not things that Libyans do. They're all good at putting up the new shiny things, but once something breaks down, that's pretty much it. The first glimpse we saw of that was on the Libyan Arab Airlines plane from Tunis to Tripoli. We didn't know it at the time, but this airline is not permitted to fly to Europe, because it is not up to the regulation standards. We weren't surprised to hear it though. We boarded a quite old Boeing 737 (thank goodness for Boeing's skill at building quality planes to start with) that had clearly never been cleaned once it had come into the hands of this airline. Nor repaired. Wiring and ventilation pipes were clearly visible in the open overhead luggage compartments. There were no seat assignments, this was a seat-yourself affair, which tended to fill up from front to back, foregoing all logic. (It bugged Lennart, I could tell. "So inefficient!" he was thinking.)

Otherwise, the flight was pretty uneventful, and we landed in Tripoli with our passports and bizarre visa documents (1, 2, and 3) in hand, prepared for the worst. Especially considering that they got Lennart's passport number wrong, and had written my date of birth the same as my passport issue date. We got in line, and got up to the booth (I think they like creating useless extra jobs here. In this booth, they had one person to look at the passports who then handed them off to another person to stamp the passports. Plus another person further toward the exit who checked the passports once again. They also consistently had anywhere from three to six people taking tickets/boarding cards...rechecking boarding cards...tearing the little stub off the end of the boarding cards...rechecking the boarding card stub...and so on. Keep this in mind for later updates.) where the first guy looked and us, and looked at our passports, and looked satisfied and handed them off to the second guy. He looked at our passports and looked at the visa papers...put one of the visa papers in a file...called over a third guy to check the visa papers...much discussion. He stamped my passport and handed it to me. More discussion. Pointed to Lennart's passport and how the number didn't match the paper. Lennart shrugged and shook his head, while the guy babbled in Arabic. The second guy babbled to the third guy. The second guy changed the passport number on the paper, stamped Lennart's passport, and handed both the paper and the passport back to Lennart. Why he bothered changing the number, we'll never know, as there were no other people interested in seeing that paper during the whole rest of our stay there.

Then we went through the metal detectors on our way OUT of customs...everyone one cared. Some people went around the metal detectors instead of through them. No one cared. We were met by one of the local guides and taken to the restaurant for dinner with the rest of the tour group, had dinner and returned to the hotel for some nice sleep.

Next day we really got down to business. The original plan was to head to Sabratha, but plans were changed, and we went instead to Leptis Magna. It seems our group leaders had heard that many of the cruise ships carrying more eclipse chasers would be visiting Leptis Magna on the day we had originally planned to see it, so they thought it'd be better to avoid the bigger crowds. I am so glad we did.

Leptis Magna was a fairly major city of the Roman Empire during the time when Carthage was a major power. Read Wikipedia's snippet about Leptis Magna.

Just walking through these ruins was amazing. The baths still have great slabs of marble still covering the floors and some walls. Many many columns are still standing upright (though admittedly, many of these have been re-stood up by Italian archaeologists, just the fact that they're still intact is marvelous!) and you can clearly see many of the carvings and reliefs in the surfaces of the various facades.

The arch of Septimus Severus:

Marble steps down into one of the baths:

The communal marble toilets:

The forum:

The temple of Bacchus:

The marketplace:

Another incredible temple, though I forget to whom it's dedicated:

A nice shot of the theatre:

The amphitheatre...where the cirkus was...gladiators and whatnot:

Those are just highlights. More pics from Leptis Magna to be found here (though they're slow loading, cuz they're high quality). No peeking on other days, now. I'll be posting further updates! :)

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